Monday, July 24, 2017

Actual vs hypothetical possibilities

What makes something possible? Is there a difference among differing possibilities? Is it possible for a lawyer to have taken a different path in the past and become a doctor instead? Or is it possible for someone to born a girl instead of a boy? Or perhaps is it possible for the world to have a different value of the speed of light? Or, what about whether it is possible for the elect to lose their salvation? As it can be seen, all these are "possibilities" in the sense of what can be conceived in the mind, but they are different types of possibilities. The possibility of a different career path depends on decisions made by the person in the past. The second possibility depends on the genotype of the sperm fertilizing the egg (X instead of Y). The third possibility is a variation of the "possible worlds" or "multiverse" hypothesis (a concept which need not really and physically exist except conceptually) The fourth possibility however does not seem to possible, but it is something that can be conceived in the mind, so is it a real possibility?

For those who believe in Scripture and the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, the reason why the fourth possibility does not seem to be a possibility is due to the biblical teaching that God will certainly preserve those whom He calls and saves. John 6:44 states, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." The God who calls a person to salvation will raise him up on the last day. Therefore, how can it be said that the elect have a possibility that they can lose their salvation?

So let us just look at this one particular example here. Is there any sense in which losing salvation is a possibility? And here we must say that, in any actual sense, there is no possibility of the losing of salvation. But yet, according to nature, the elect have no infallible principle placed into them that will make perseverance certain. The elect are not suddenly changed to become like the holy angels, never thinking of not sinning or running away from God. In other words, while God's promise of perseverance is present, everything else in nature and the world seem to indicate otherwise. Professing believers apostatize from the faith, even those that at one time were fervent for the Lord. Others suffer with great doubt over their faith, while on the other spectrum yet others claim to have infallible assurance of their salvation while living like the Devil. The world, this real world, does not seem to make everything so nicely cut and dry, does it?

So is losing one's salvation a possibility? According to God's word, it is not. Looking with the eyes of faith even at the brokenness of this world, we can also say not, since what we see is seldom the heart of the person who claims faith. But from the perspective of nature and the realities of this world, we can say that losing one's salvation is a possibility in this sense: that if it were not for God's promise and God's Spirit, the elect could really lose their salvation. As Mark 13:22 states concerning the false wonders of the false messiahs, these were done to, "lead astray, if possible, the elect." In other words, the elect losing their salvation is a real possibility were it not for the fact of God's promise and the Spirit preserving the elect. Thus, the elect losing their salvation is a possibility, not a real possibility, but what I would call a "hypothetical possibility."

A real possibility refers to something that might happen if something else were or were not the case. It regards things that are variables that could be otherwise in other possible worlds. A hypothetical possibility however refers to something that is possible provided some other principle were to be suspended. In the case of the perseverance of the saints, the principle to be suspended is the intention of God to fulfill His promise, and this principle is necessary in all possible worlds. Hypothetical possibilities are therefore truly hypothetical, in the sense that there is no possible world where they can be realized. Hypothetical possibilities are however different from logical contradictions, like "square circles" or "God creating a stone so heavy He cannot lift it." Hypothetical possibilities are possibilities as they can be conceived, and can be actualized if the principles holding them back (as it were) were suspended.

Thus, in the discussion concerning reprobation, I made the observation that it is a hypothetical possibility that a creature that is reprobated would not be condemned if he did not sin. This is a hypothetical possibility because it is natural and necessary for any fallen creature to sin. But having this hypothetical possibility is meant to show anyone who is interested that God does not just dump innocents into hell, or that He sends people to hell before they have sinned. In the attack against Suprelapsarianism for example, the charge is made that Suprelapsarianism makes God send people on the path of hell even before they are considered sinners. But this charge ignores the two-step process of reprobation, and the hypothetical possibility of the non-damnation of the reprobate, and therefore does not stick. Yes, Supralapsaranism has God electing and reprobating prior to the decree to permit the Fall, but in the decree, reprobation is made to be fully executed only after the Fall (after fallen men sin). The decrees have built-in "clocks" as it were, to be implemented in execution when the conditions within the decree are fulfilled.

This distinction between actual and hypothetical possibility therefore has great hermeneutical potential. Instead of just thinking of things actual and things possible, we should perhaps think of things actual, things actually possible, and things hypothetical possible. Using such categories would aid us greatly in understand concepts like warning against apostasy as something addressing a possibility for the elect (hypothetical possibility), without making such warnings about questioning the salvation of the elect (Arminianism), or stating that they are simply hot air and worrying over nothing, since the elect can never actually fall away (simplistic reasoning by some Calvinists).

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Turretin: Christianity is not fatalism, and God is not the author of sin

V. … For since they [Stoics –DHC] are said commonly to place a necessity out of God in the perpetual and eternal connection of things, we place it in God himself and his eternal decree. They subject God to necessity, we subject necessity to God. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1.6.II.5]

XVII. The predetermination of God in evil acts is not repugnant to his permission because they are not occupied about the same things. The former regards the substance of the act, the latter, however, its wickedness; the former reaches the material (effecting it), but the latter the formality (leaving it to the free will of man, which alone is the deficient moral cause). For as in an evil act, there is, as it were, a twofold formal relation (one having the relation of effect, the other having the relation of defect), God can move and predetermine to that which has the relation of effect, but can only permit the other which has the relation of defect. [Ibid., 1.6.VI.18]

Friday, July 14, 2017

Turretin: God does not will to save those He will not save

XIX. Third, if God has a universal will to save all, it is either absolute or conditional. If absolute, all will actually be saved; if conditional, he wills either to effect the condition necessary to salvation in men or only to exact it. If only to exact it, he does not will and intend the salvation of such by exacting from them an act which he knew to be impossible to man. Again, that condition will certainly be about to come to pass or certainly not about to come to pass. If the former, each and every man will certainly be saved; if the latter, God would be made to will vehemently that which he nevertheless well knew would never take place (as depending upon a condition such that it never would come to pass in this respect because he himself, who alone can, does not will to effect it). Now if it does not belong to a wise man to will anything under a condition which he knows to be impossible, how much less can this be attributed to the most wise God? [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1.4.XVII.19]

Turretin: Election not based on foreseen faith

XXII. Third, if election is from foreseen faith, God must have foreseen it in us: either as an act of nature proceeding from us, or as an act of grace depending on God, or as a common act, arising conjointly from both (partly from God, partly from man). If as an act of God, he foresaw is therefore as his own gift (i.e. decreed by him from election) Thus it would follow, not precede election. IT as an act of nature we therefore elected ourselves (contrary to Paul, 1 Cor. 4:7), Pelagius gains the victory. If as a common act, either the act of God takes its form from the act of man (and so man would be the architect of his own salvation and could sacrifice to his own net, since he would bring to his own salvation the principal part) or the act of man takes its form from the act of God (and so election will be the case of faith, not the contrary). We must either ascend with the Scriptures to God discriminating among men by his own gift, or descend with Pelagius to man discriminating himself by his own free will (for there can be no middle way). [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1.4.XI.22]

Monday, July 10, 2017

What is reprobation?

XVII. The election of some being supposed, the preterition of others follows. By this he [God] not only was unwilling to confirm them in good, but decreed to permit their sin. The fall taking place, he decreed to leave them in and condemn them on account of their sin. Their reprobation to this is referred. It is also contained in two acts: one negative (dereliction in the fall); the other affirmative (damnation to eternal punishment). ... [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology. 1.4.8.17]

What is reprobation? Reprobation is God's active decree to pass by some (all those whom He did not elect unto salvation) and decree them to eternal damnation. Reprobation, like election, is unconditional. As it condemns people to hell even before they were created in time, it seems to imply injustice in God. That is why Paul had to write Romans 9:14-24, as reprobation seems to be unjust. After all, how can God punish someone before they have even done good or bad?

When one looks more closely at the doctrine of reprobation however, it can be seen that at least some of the concern is misplaced. Reprobation is made up of two parts: Pretertion and Damnation. In preterition, God passed over those whom He did not elect. In damnation, God condemns to hell reprobate sinners because of their sin. Thus reprobation is not conditioned upon the sinner, but at the same time, sinners will never be condemned to hell apart from their sins. It is hypothetically possible for a creature to be passed over (preterition) but not condemned if that creature did not sin, and thus not be sent to hell. It is however not actually possible for any human to only be passed over without being damned, because all Man have fallen in Adam and thus all Man would have and will sin. Thus, God's decree of reprobation will have worked out in preterition and damnation for all of the reprobate, all without exception, and yet there would certainly be no injustice with God.

There is no such thing as a conditional decree of God

VIII. It is one thing to maintain that God has not decreed to save anyone except through legitimate means; another that the decree to save these or those persons through legitimate means is conditional and of uncertain event (which the adversaries feign). ...

IX. It is one thing for the thing decreed to be conditional; another for the decree itself. The former we grant, but not the latter. There can be granted an antecedent cause or condition of the thing willed, but not immediately of the volition itself. Thus God wills salvation to have the annexed condition of faith and repentance in the execution, but faith and repentance are not the condition or cause of the act of willing in God, nor of the decree to save in the intention.

[Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology. 1.4.3. 9-10]

Is the Gospel conditional or is it not? Is salvation conditional? The answers given by many people nowadays are incoherent, because they have lost the clarity of thought that characterized Reformed Scholasticism. Those like the PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches of America) in their attack against the "conditional covenant" showed forth their theological incoherence as they simultaneously attacked the idea that there are conditions in the Covenant of Grace, yet will defend that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation (which would make "faith in Jesus Christ" a condition). Others like the Federal Vision will state openly that faith is necessary and thus a condition in the Covenant of Grace, then like Norman Shepherd assert that conditionality implies humans are to fulfill those conditions, thus undermining the "faith not works" principle of the Gospel and the Covenant of Grace. In both of these examples, failure to think clearly and logically result in theological error and incoherence, with further implications for the lives of believers as they are worked out (either in Legalism or Antinomianism).

In contrast to such confusion in the modern broadly Reformed sphere, Turretin's clarify shines forth. There is no such thing as a "conditional decree" or a "conditional covenant," but there are conditions within God's decree and covenant. Faith is a condition, but faith is conditioned as absolutely decreed, not as a decree that is conditioned upon Man having faith. This is the clarity we need to reject the errors in our time in the Reformed sphere of churches, and keep to the narrow path of orthodoxy.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Who is the Spiritual Man? - 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Here is last week's sermon on 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, dealing with the topic of who is the spiritual man, as opposed to the "carnal" or "worldly" man.

Language and the problem of discourse

1) These Terms Are Ideologically Loaded

They’re not ‘value-neutral’.

When words like ‘patriarchal’, ‘privilege’, and ‘gender-inequality’ are used, they don’t merely describe a state of affairs: they also evaluate it.

...

What’s more, when you introduce ideologically loaded jargon, the evaluation is already assumed – it’s smuggled in, as it were, underneath our worldview radar. For example, what secular ideology means by ‘oppression’, is often different to what the Bible means by ‘oppression’. It is of concern that when this language is used, we rarely see any corresponding discussion of particular Biblical passages, arguing whether such evaluations are true to the Bible. (And when these Scriptural discussions do happen, they tend to be secondary rather than primary.) Importing this type of jargon into our discussions with each other means that, if we’re not careful, we can uncritically swallow the non-Biblical worldview.

[Akos Balogh and Dani Treweek, "Christian Discusson and Feminism: Here's What We're Getting Wrong," TGC Australia Blog (30th June 2017), here]

"When did you stop beating your wife?" For an ordinary couple, there is no right answer to that question, because the husband did not even begin to beat his wife in the first place. Questions like these are loaded questions, complete with many assumptions that attempt to sway the direction of discourse, in that particular case, into a presumption of guilt of wife-beating on the part of the one questioned.

Likewise, terms and phrases are not necessary value-neutral. Utilizing terms such as "patriarchal," "privilege" and all other "social justice" terms are likewise not value-neutral. These terms have assumptions built into them that will direct the framing of discourse concerning these topics, even for those who might disagree with them. Utilizing these terms predisposes the users towards the theories in which these terms originate, and thus it should not be too surprising for example that people who utilize the terms "social justice" and "racial inequality" tend to veer left and socialist, while those who use the terms "welfare" and "charity" tend to veer right. None of these terms are value-neutral: "social justice" has the connotation that one is righting a social wrong in pursuing it (which should also be or become illegal), while "charity" has the connotation that what one is doing is done out of love and grace and the recipient totally does not deserve the charitable action, not even if coming from the State. As is clearly seen in this example, although these terms are used to refer to approximately the same thing (from the center), adopting either of these terms clearly slant the manner of discourse concerning the subject matter.

It is therefore very important not just to believe in truth, but also to know how to believe in truth. That is also why, while doctrine is propositional, it cannot be reduced to propositions only. It is why we have to watch over the manner of our discourse, and refuse to utilize loaded words from the world without scrutinizing these terms according to the Scriptures.

Just to take one more example, the word "privilege" when applied to social situations has the connotation that the difference between those who have "privilege" and those who do not have "privilege" is a matter of social injustice that must be corrected by the use of the law. It doesn't matter even if one were to attempt to take the term out of the context of Critical Race Theory, for as long as it is used to refer to the same sociological phenomenon, it retains that connotation. The only way it could lose that connotation is to take the position that "privilege" is natural and to be celebrated, something no social justice warrior on the left would ever conceive of, and a position that defeats the entire choice of adopting the word "privilege" in the first place!

On the theological front, language is even more important, if that were possible. The classic case of the need for theological precision is the Nicene distinction between "same essence" (ὁμοουσιαν) and "like essence" (ὁμοιουσιαν), where the difference between orthodoxy and heresy is the presence or absence of a single iota. But beyond the need for precision is establishing the language of discourse about how we are to talk about God and about Christ. Without the final framework of the meaning of "essence" (οὐσια), "hypostasis" (ὑποστασις), and "person" (πρωσοπον), thus establishing a proper manner of discourse concerning the doctrine of God and of Christ, Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy would be unable to be established.

Our manner of discourse can never be a value-neutral thing. This is not to suggest absolute postmodern relativism concerning words and their meaning, but rather to have a more chastened realism concerning the nature of language. As we deal with social, philosophical, theological and even scientific discourse, we should realize the value-imbued meaning of various words, and then decide whether these are suitable words to be used in the context of Christian discourse.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

On Critical Race Theory

What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)? Over at the Harvard Law Record, a student-run newspaper, Bill Barlow has written a succinct description of what Critical Race Theory is, here. As it can be seen, Critical Race Theory is just racism (of the "minority" against the "majority"), or "reverse racism" (discrimination against real and perceived racism). It is something that nobody who is actually interested in equality should be promoting. Yet we know that CRT is being promoted by Progressives, and even worse, by organizations such as RAAN (Reformed African-American Network).

One of the many problems with those pushing such nonsense is that they treat people as their "race" not as individuals. They do not care to actually get to know individuals first, but rather they see everything through the lens of "race" before anything else. After "race" of course comes ideology. Thus, whites have to "confess" their "privilege" all the time, and be an "ally," before they can be accepted by blacks for example. Those who refuse to buy into such nonsense are by default "racists" and "bigots," without any regard for how they actually treat those who are different from them.

Among many reasons, this is a reason why Christians ought not to buy into CRT in any form. The solution to discrimination (real or perceived) is not more discrimination. The solution to racism is not more racism, in the opposite direction. An eye for an eye, and the whole world becomes blind! The solution is have true equality, color-blindness, which does NOT imply that minority cultures are unimportant but that all (both majority and minority) are to be treated equally before others and before the law.

Even to utilize their language is problematic, because the language itself partake of the racial tones of CRT. To use the word "white privilege" or even "Chinese privilege" is already to state something in racial tones, which is racist. There is no redemption of CRT terms possible, just as there can be no redemption of terms such as "Racial Hygiene."

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The pilgrim context of not living by "bread alone"

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. (Deut. 8:3-5)

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by our Daily Bread. OK, bad pun. But the point is how often we, and Evangelicalism as a whole, have taken what is truly deep and rich and trivialize it into cheap piety saleable to the masses. From a pietist background, how else should we think about showing our dependence upon God and His Word than in spending 5 minutes of each day reading shallow "Christian" drivel and calling it a devotion? And then we wonder why is that Christianity is not practical, or that this daily reading seems more like ritual than actual true enjoyment. Perhaps the problem is because we have trivialized God's Word, and make the reading of God's Word into something more like the reading of inspirational sayings. In fact, for some "pastors" like Joel Osteen, there is no real difference between what He says and the inspirational sayings of self-help gurus!

The real context of the phrase that "Man shall not live by bread alone" is not in a time of comfort and ease. Many people might think the Exodus was a great time of deliverance from slavery, and that is true. But many people do not consider the costs of the Exodus, as if deliverance is such an enjoyable event. It is not! In leaving Egypt, Israel thrusts herself into the unknown. Her calendar was disrupted, one's daily routine in life is disrupted. The food has changed, there is no permanent home, and everything seems to be settled upon the whim of one man's decrees, a man that none of them have elected to be their leader. When Israel cried to return to Egypt, it is not so much that they love slavery, but that Egypt offered stability and certainty. But what certainty or stability do they have with Moses in the wilderness? And while it is true that God is leading His people, for most of Israel most of the time, since God is unseen, the earthly impression is that of an unelected dictator telling them where to go, what to do, and how to worship. And if any of them object, like Korah, supernatural punishments and plagues will come upon them (Num. 16).

The context of Deuteronomy 8 therefore is one of destabilization. God removed the pillars of stability of Israel's life, such that they have nothing whatsoever to depend on but God alone. This is the context of the phrase "Man shall not live by bread alone," not the idea that it is a good thing to get daily "spiritual nourishment" through 5 minutes of devotion every day. It it for those whom God has brought to the end of themselves, so that they will say

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:25-26)

And we respond, like Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," (Jn. 6:68b).

Deuteronomy 8:3-5 itself shows us that it is God's discipline that brings us to Himself. He Himself removes our pillars of support and security, because we have made them into idols and put our trust in them. We have put our trust in job security, in having peaceful lives (as if God owes us peace), relatively just government (as if God owes you a good government), and for Singaporeans, our CPF. Those are the crutches and idols in our lives that take the place of Christ, and that is why it is hard for people to trust in Christ, because we have become too comfortable. We have taken God's blessings of health and prosperity and made them into a curse upon our souls. And thus we cannot say that we have learned dependence upon God, because we have not. We trust in all the other things God has given, and think we are entitled to them. If God were to remove them, we curse God for taking any of them away from us, as if we are entitled to all these things. And then we ask how we can make Christianity practical to us! Ever read the story of the rich young ruler? Unfortunately, many Evangelicals are just like that rich young ruler, someone who is looking for something he can do to make himself better, but unwilling to let God actually touch the things He puts His trust and security in.

It is only in times of trials and tribulations that the worth of a man's faith is made manifest. When God begins to shake your life, will you, following the advice of Job's wife, curse God and die? Or will you surrender what God has blessed you with, acknowledging that it is God who gives, and God who also takes away, and regardless of what happens, God is to be blessed. Can you therefore say that you have learned to not live by bread alone but by the Word of God?

Christ of course is the fulfilment of this passage, as He took our punishments on our behalf and live the righteous life, with trials and tribulations, for us. But this does not imply that God is no more disciplining His children. We continue to need to learn this lesson of trusting in God alone, not for our salvation but for our sanctification. Those whom God loves He disciplines, and conversely those whom the Lord does not discipline, He does not love. True Christians living in this life will face trials and tribulations, and much sorrow, as God disciplines us for our good. We will slowly learn from experience what it is to trust in God alone, and thus, like Israel, learn that man is not to live by bread alone but by the Word of God.

Christology and Theology conundrum

A claim about the incarnate Son—particularly a claim about the relationship of the incarnate Son to the Father—may be a trinitarian proposition, but it may also be a christological assertion. To take a classic example, well worked through in patristic thought, when we hear Jesus pray, either in Gethsemane or in the high-priestly prayer of John 17, we necessarily hear the authentically human voice of the incarnate Son pleading with God, not an internal triune dialogue between the eternal Father and the eternal Son. [Stephen R. Holmes, "Classical Trinity: Evangelical Perspective," in Jason S. Sexton and Stanley N. Gundry, eds., Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 44]

When Jesus prays to the Father, is it an intra-Trinity dialogue? According to Holmes, who claims the support of the Church Fathers, it is the human voice of Jesus praying to God the Father, not the Second person of the Trinity praying to the First person of the Trinity. Now, of course it is admitted that the voicing of the prayer in human words and language is necessarily human, but is the prayer also "human"?

The problem it seems to me comes down to Christology. The Christian position has always been Christ is one person with two natures and two wills. The "two wills" is meant to safeguard the fact that Christ has two natures, in the sense that a nature comes with a will, and thus Christ having two wills safeguards the fact that Christ is both fully human and fully divine, not a mixture of the two in any sense. But orthodox Christology has similarly deny that a nature is its own actor, as if Christ has two separate wills in him warring over what to do. Christ is one actor, thus one person. Unlike humans who have one nature and thus our persons, natures and wills coincide, Christ's two natures are in one person and thus one act of willing (through two wills of course). The view that Christ's natures can subsist independent of His one person can be considered to be some variant of Nestorianism, which holds that Christ is two persons, two natures and two wills.

Thus, in embracing Chalcedon, it seems that we must reason in light of this orthodox doctrine of Christ's one person. Christ's natures are not personalized in any way, but rather it is Christ who acts according to either of his natures in whatever He does. In other words, Christ in His person is the actor, not His natures. Natures don't act, but persons do. Therefore, while it can be said in a human action that Christ acts to, for example, eat His lunch, according to His human nature, yet it is the one person of Christ who chooses to eat His lunch. Yes, such human actions are done according to His human nature. BUT, it is Christ's person who does so, according to His human nature.

What this implies for Holmes' interpretation of Christ's prayer is that we have a real problem here. According to Holmes' interpretation, which claims patristic support, Jesus' prayers on earth was done according to His human nature. So far, so good. But since Christ's natures don't act, it is Christ's one person that chooses to act according to His human nature. Or to emphasize, it is Christ's ONE PERSON who acts. In other words, yes, we hear the "authentically human voice of the incarnate Son pleading with God." But it is also the authentic voice of the one person of the SON who is pleading with God the Father. So, since it is the one and same person of the Son whether He is incarnated or not, does it really change the fact so that such interactions are not somehow intra-triune dialogues? The person of the Son remains the same pre-incarnated or incarnated. So why does the incarnation somehow makes the dialogue between the Father and the Son no longer an intra-triune dialogue?

Seeing as how Holmes claim patristic support, it is possible that such a conundrum was addressed by any of the Church Fathers. However, based so far on what I have read, I do not see how this rejection of the presence of intra-triune dialogues in time can be maintained. Not to mention that this idea of reading the Gospel accounts does not seem to me a natural way of reading Christ's interaction with His Father, which does suggest a genuine interpersonal relational interaction between God the Father and God the Son, rather than the triune God with the human nature of Christ.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The problem of reversed virtue

In my latest sermon, one point that I had made, but did not elaborate too much on, was in my second point concerning the problem of what I would call "reverse virtue." Due to the growing progressive liberal trend in Western society, cultural Marxism has infiltrated mainstream American society, such that Marxist ideas have become the trendy thing. In Latin America, Marxism in its various forms have long been influential, resulting in much devastation to the region (see e.g. today's Venezuela, also Argentina under Peron). Liberation Theology is the Marxist reading of theology, and its religious idea of "God's preferential favor towards the poor" has followed closely upon the heels of cultural Marxism, the latter infecting society while the former infecting religious thinkers and activists. Thus today in Western society, neologisms such as "white privilege," "confess your privilege," "woke" among other redefined terms have redefined social discourse, all for the worse.

The problem with Liberation Theology and contemporary Social Justice Warrior (SJW) religious Marxism (e.g. RAAN) is that it will not ever solve the real problem of human sin and actual inequality. What it does is that is merely flips societal values 180 degrees. What was once lauded as social virtues like wealth, thrift, intact families, law-abiding, truthfulness etc, are now labeled as vices, while what was once scorned as social vices such as poverty, wastefulness, single parenthood, law-breaking, being illegal aliens, lying etc, are now labeled as virtues. I will not be speaking here of the many social problems with such a scheme, but merely would like to point out how this does not conform to the Gospel at all.

The Gospel is all about salvation by grace alone, which excludes works of any kind. That is why God chooses the weak, and the foolish, and the lowly, because there is nothing virtuous about being weak, being foolish and being lowly. But in a Marxist scheme with the inversion of virtue, that would make God chose the newly-minted virtuous people. In a Marxist scheme, God choose the weak, the foolish, and the lowly because they are now virtuous in their weakness, folly and lowly status. But such is a betrayal of the Gospel message of salvation by grace alone! In a Marxist scheme, the poor can now boast that God chose him because poverty is a virtue. The foolish can now boast that God chose him because folly is a virtue, and so on.

Thus, whatever problems the problem of Marxism has socially (e.g. denial of Natural law), when it comes to the Gospel, religious Marxism with its reversed virtue scheme is an assault against the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. It is thus "anti-Gospel." It is a real indication that works-righteousness is not so easily expunged from the consciousness of men that the supposedly Reformed RAAN is promoting a theory that is contrary to the Gospel. We children of Adam are forever trying to make ourselves better and more deserving of salvation, and it is this tendency to think of ourselves better than we are that we all need to repent of, continually.

God glorified through our lack: 1 Corinthians 1:25-31

Here is my latest sermon preached May 28th 2017, on 1 Corinthians 1:25-31, entitled "God glorified through our lack."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Evaluating the Bebbington Quadrilateral

The Bebbington Quadrilateral denotes the four qualities that David Bebbington claimed are characteristic of [the Old] Evangelicalism, as described in his book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London, UK: Unwin Hyman, 1989). In the book The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), various scholars interacted with Bebbington's thesis that Evangelicalism, as described having these four characteristics, originated in the 1730s and in the First Great Awakening in that era. The last chapter was a response by Bebbington to the diverse essays which interacted with his thesis, often critically. It is interesting to read Bebbington's response, to see how he dealt with critiques of his thesis and to observe whether it holds up to scrutiny.

The four characteristics of Evangelicalism are (1) Activism, (2) Conversionism, (3) Biblicism, and (4) Cruci(o)centrism. On top of that, Bebbington had asserted a discontinuity between the Puritans and the Evangelicals concerning the issue of assurance of salvation, an assertion that generated quite a lot of push-back from the various contributors to the book The Advent of Evangelicalism.

In his response, Bebbington modified his thesis to a certain degree. On the issue of assurance of salvation, Bebbington virtually concedes the point to his critics, while stating that "it seems likely that the predominant view on the subject in the seventeenth century was less confident than what was normally professed in the eighteenth" (Bebbington, "Response," in The Advent of Evangelicalism, 421-2). In his response, Bebbington rejects the identification of the notion of "activism" as indicative of Puritanism or any movement prior to Evangelicalism by focusing on an important distinction of Evangelicalism: the emergence of multiple interdenominational agencies (Bebbington, in ibid., 419, 427). On the issue of Biblicism and Crucicentrism, Bebbington focuses on the fact that Evangelicalism was all about making things simple and only for the purpose of salvation, with a corresponding downplaying of theology as an academic discipline, and of right order and discipline in the church (Bebbington, in ibid., 428, 30). On the issue of Conversionism, Bebbington focuses on the issue of revivals, and the idea and heightened expectation of revivals that permeates Evangelicalism.

While Bebbington's response focuses on his response to his critics, we can read in his response how he might have modified his quadrilateral in order to more clearly describe Evangelicalism. The almost 2-decade old definition is in line for an upgrade, and I will attempt such an upgrade in light of Bebbington's response. Instead of merely stating a belief in "activism," we should say that Evangelicalism is marked by interdenominational activism, and a downplaying of denominational difference in lieu of a unified evangelical witness. Instead of merely a belief in "Conversionism," we could say that Evangelicalism is marked by a heightened belief in and discourse of revivals. Instead of holding to Biblicism, we could say that Evangelicalism is marked by an instrumental view of doctrine and a downplaying of academic theology and theological precision. Instead of holding to Crucicentrism, we could say that Evangelicalism is marked by a focus on the doctrine of salvation and anything related to the doctrine of salvation with a de-emphasis of other theological loci.

Thus, the new "quadrilateral" can be listed as follows:

  1. Interdenominational Activism
  2. Heightened belief in Revivals
  3. Instrumental view of doctrine
  4. De-emphasis on anything not related to soteriology

It seems to me that besides new criterion number two (Belief in Revivals), which is one more of degree than of kind, the other three seem to be valid distinctives of Evangelicalism. Evangelicals of any stripe have little concerns over denominational issues, with some even attacking "denominationalism" as an evil. Evangelicals also tend to have an instrumental view of doctrine and truth, and always ask for practicality. Even those that are not anti-intellectual do not see the beauty of truth just for the fact that it is true, but that everything must be able to be put into practice. That is probably why the Doctrine of God and the Trinity are not of major importance among many Evangelicals, although Evangelicals tend to continue to preserve the orthodoxy bought and fought for by the early church.

And lastly, Evangelicals do tend to emphasize soteriology, which is why many conservative Evangelicals today can be Calvinist in soteriology yet they reject Calvin's view of baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is all about people "being saved," but what happens after salvation is of less importance in getting it right. Thus, Evangelicals will fight over getting the Gospel right such that those who get the Gospel wrong are excommunicated, but not even a tenth of that militancy will be displayed on the views of baptism and discipleship, much less church governance.

In lieu of the topic of revivals, I think it is better to focus on Evangelicalism's view of conversion as a punctiliar salvation event which marks a person's salvation. This view precludes children converted in the womb or in early childhood, and makes the focus of salvation about experiencing a "Damascus Road" type experience and less on a person's confession of faith. That is why Evangelicals love to hear about conversion testimonies. Evangelicalism does not really have a category for professing believers who do not have this experience of the new-birth, but yet claim to be Christians (except perhaps "unbelievers"?). With this view of conversion as a repetition of Paul's Damascus Road experience, the Quadrilateral could be recreated anew, as follows:

  1. Interdenominational Activism
  2. Conversion as experience
  3. Instrumental view of doctrine
  4. Soteriological primacy

[And on this note, it can be seen why I am not an Evangelical. I do not believe in interdenominational activism, conversion as necessarily an experience, neither do I hold to an instrumental view of truth and doctrine, nor the primacy of soteriology over all other doctrines.]

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Is Evangelicalism Reformed? The consequences

The position of radical discontinuity in evangelicalism in the 1730s cannot be historically confirmed and is theologically dangerous, for it leaves us with the impression that Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley are the fathers of evangelicalism. The result of this controversial position is that Wesley’s Arminianism could then no longer be viewed as aberrational theology within a solidly Reformed movement. Instead, Reformed and Arminian theology would be given equal status in the origins of evangelicalism, as is often done today. [Joel R. Beeke, “Evangelicalism and the Dutch Further Reformation,” in Michael A.G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Stewart, eds., The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), 168]

In closing, I wish to step out of the realm of history by commenting briefly on the consequences of this possibility for evangelical self-understanding. If we think that evangelicalism began in the 1730s, then Wesley and Edwards become its most important fathers. This means that evangelicalism was from its origin equally divided between Reformed and Arminian theology. Neither could claim to be the mainstream doctrinal position. In this sense it is easy to see how Bebbington’s analysis serves to give a strong foothold to Arminianism within the evangelical movement by making foundational one of its most noted proponents. If, however, we reconsider the origins of evangelicalism and find that it is a Reformational and Puritan phenomenon, then the picture looks very different. (Gary J. Williams, “Enlightenment Epistemology and Eighteenth-Century Evangelical Doctrines of Assurance,” in ibid., 374)

The movement spearheaded by John Wesley, notwithstanding his predilection for antiquity, was undoubtedly novel. The historian cannot dismiss it as an aberration, because it was numerically the largest sector of the evangelical movement in Britain. (David W. Bebbington, “Response,” in ibid., 424)

Despite the theological polarity over free will, there was generally a remarkable degree of mutual respect within the diverse ranks of the evangelicals. They had a sense of belonging to a common movement in which their united proclamation of the new birth transcended doctrinal differences. … Methodists were full participants in the Evangelical Revival. Their contribution ensured that the movement as a whole was in many respects discontinuous with earlier Protestantism as well as in other ways continuous with it. (Bebbington, "Response," in ibid., 425)

Let me mention a few things, therefore, which I put into the categories of non-essentials.

One is the belief in election and predestination. Now I am a Calvinist; I believe in election and predestination; but I would not dream of putting it under the heading of essential. [Martin Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical? (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1992), 87]

Is Evangelicalism Reformed? Or rather, is Evangelicalism the overarching set in which we can fit in the Reformers, the Puritans, and then the heirs of the First and Second Great Awakening? That is a historical question with important implications for believers' self-identity. If one is Reformed, is one necessarily an Evangelical? Are Evangelicals the set that comprises all true Christian believers who believe in the biblical Gospel, as many people seem to think so today?

While I am sure there are others who have investigated this issue, David Bebbington has brought the issue of the origins of Evangelicalism into the modern spotlight in academia, with his 1989 book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. In this book, Bebbington stated that Evangelicalism has its origins in the 1730s and especially through the prominent leaders of the First Great Awakening: George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley. Evangelicalism (the "Old" version, not the "New Evangelicalism" of the 1950s) can be described as possessing four distinct traits: Conversionism (a focus on the necessity of each person to individually turn to Christ in faith for salvation), Activism (a commitment to participate with God in his saving mission in the world), Biblicism (a devotion to the Bible as the Word of God written for all of faith), and Crucicentrism (a focus on Jesus Christ and the substitutionary atonement of Christ for sins) [David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London, UK: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 5-17]. In the early 18th century, a new movement came into being that came to be Evangelicalism, a new distinct movement that was not present prior to the 18th century.

It does not take much thought to realize the implications of the Bebbington thesis for Christian self-identification. In the collection of essays edited by Michael Haykin and Kenneth Stewart, contributors Joel Beeke and Gary Williams pointed out the obvious implications concerning how Arminianism is to be perceived if the Bebbington thesis is to be upheld. In his response, Bebbington plainly states that [Wesleyan] Arminianism is indeed part of Evangelicalism, and points out how Evangelical Calvinists and Evangelical Arminians cooperated in Evangelical enterprises and outreaches. That Evangelical Calvinists have historically regarded the Calvinisism/ Arminianism issue as a non-essential issue is further proved by Martin Lloyd-Jones in his book What is an Evangelical?, where Lloyd-Jones equated "Evangelicals" with "believers" and therefore held that Arminian Christians who believe in the Gospel are "Evangelicals" since they are indeed saved. In other words, it seems that the implications of the "controversial position" Joel Beeke detests is indeed what Evangelicals have always held to. (I guess Beeke has to decide whether he wants to identify himself an "Evangelical," since the Bebbington thesis has some merit along that line)

Ideas and theories have practical implications, and are not limited to academia. That it takes some time for ideas in academia to trickle down to the ground is definite. The only "impractical theories" and "abstract castles in the sky" present are those that deal with things that have little if any relation to reality; everything else is practical if one actually thinks about them. Here, the practical implications of the Bebbington thesis concerns not only a believer's self-identification, but also the status of Arminianism. If one identifies as an Evangelical, it is not possible, given the Bebbington thesis, to claim Arminianism as heresy. Rather, Arminianism must be seen as a minor doctrinal error, about as errant as differences in one's views concerning the Millennium.

It is because of this understanding of history, among others, that I do not identify as an "Evangelical," but rather as Reformed. I hold to the Canons of Dordt and therefore am precluded from considering "Evangelical" as a valid self-label, even apart from all other considerations. Perhaps if Bebbington's thesis trickle towards the church then we can get a greater self-understanding among Christians.

Puritanism and Neo-puritanism

But what is omitted from this canon of Puritan literature [by the Banner of Truth –DHC] is just as revealing as what is included.

Missing are the doctrinal works of Richard Baxter that promote a ‘neonomian’ doctrine of justification, a Grotian theory of atonement, and a minimalist, ecumenical creed; the writings of Roger Williams, who believed that the restoration of true churches would have to await the emergence of end-times apostles; the works of John Milton, the great Puritan poet, who defended divorce, freedom of the press and regicide, and was almost certainly Arminian and anti-trinitarian in his later life; the political writings of the Levellers, including the separatist John Lilburne and the Baptist Richard Overton; the Arminian works of John Goodwin, one of London’s lading Puritan pastors in the mid-seventeenth century; the visions of prophetesses like Anna Trapnel; the antinomian tracts of influential figures like Tobias Crisp and John Eaton; the scores of books published by the General Baptists.

[John Coffey, “Puritanism, Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Protestant Tradition,” in Michael A.G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Stewart, eds., The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), 261]

What is Puritanism? The movement promoted by Martin Lloyd Jones and then the Banner of Truth Trust is called "neo-Puritianism" only because it seeks to recover the "Puritans" for today, yet they choose and select only the works they think are worthy to be reproduced. That is certainly good in a certain sense, since not everything that the Puritans wrote were good. Yet, if someone were to derive their knowledge of who the Puritans were and what Puritanism was about purely from the Banner of Truth republished books, they would probably not get an accurate understanding of what Puritanism actually is.

Thus, many people might have the idea that Puritanism is about moving deeper into godly living based upon true doctrine. In other words, now that the first and second generation Reformers have gotten the Gospel right, subsequent generations of believers in the Reformed Church, both the Puritans and the Dutch Further Reformation, were all about working out how to apply the orthodox Gospel in godly piety. Certainly, nobody would want to minimize the doctrinal advancement of subsequent generations of the Reformed Church on doctrine, but rather the impression is given that the focus of such subsequent movements in Puritanism was on practice and piety. Thus the question was, "Having gotten justification by faith right, what things ought to be done in order that we might live to glorify God?"

Such a portrait of Puritanism is however wrong. On the one hand, Puritanism is a much more diverse movement, and Anglicans like Archbishop James Ussher are doctrinally in the Puritan camp. Thus, it is not true that Puritanism was all about godly living. Rather, the only thing that can be said definitively about Puritanism is that it was committed to further reform of the Church [Crawford Gribben, The Puritan Millennium: Literature and Theology, 1550-1682 (Studies in Christian History and Thought; Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), 8], not that it was about godly piety. Neo-Puritanism may be good for the church, but it is not the same as Puritanism. Again, the republished books by Banner of Truth Trust are good and edifying, but they cannot be counted on to accurately portray what Puritanism actually is.

On the other hand, it is a terrible historiography to sharply dichotomize between the first generations of Reformers and their spiritual heirs, as if they have radically different emphases and focuses. Luther and Calvin were concerned with godly living too (Luther against the Fanatics, and Calvin against the Libertines), while the Puritans of Reformed convictions were concerned about doctrine too (against Arminianism and Socinianism). It is not accurate to say that the Reformers reformed doctrine, while the Puritans reformed piety. Certainly, times change and challenges differ, but both the Reformers and the Puritans were resolute in combating both false doctrine and impiety. There is after all no true separation between right doctrine and godly living. Those who have one without the other are defective in both at best.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The "foolishness of preaching"

ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω ὁ κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν, εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας (1 Cor. 1:21 -BGT)

For it is because in the wisdom of God the world did not know, through its wisdom, God, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:21. Own translation)

How does one translate the Greek genitival phrase τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος? Is it an objective genitive, subjective genitive, adjectival or reverse adjectival genitive? Therein lies part of the beauty of such Greek phrases, which cannot be translated into English, and many other languages, without an attempt to decide how the genitival relation between "foolishness" and "preaching" is to be understood.

Various English translations have translated the phrase differently. The KJV decided to leave the ambiguity as it is by just literally stating it as "the foolishness of preaching." The NIV and ESV and even the NKJV decided to resolve the ambiguity by interpreting the phrase as an objective genitive and thus interpret the phrase as stating that it is the content of the preaching that is foolishness to the world. But is that a correct interpretation of the phrase? Surely it is the most natural understanding in our modern scientific context, but is that what Paul is trying to convey to us?

We note here the larger context of the phrase as describing the means by which someone can come to know God. The world, utilizing the instrument of its own wisdom, has shown itself unable to come to know God. In contrast, the "foolishness of preaching" is the instrument that God uses so that sinners who believe can come to know God. That is the contrast the verse is putting forward. The world's wisdom, versus the "foolishness of preaching." The people of the world, her philosophers, utilize their thinking and their wisdom to create empires and ideology, and ultimately the entire modern world with the modern nation-state and science and technology. But despite the greatness of the world's wisdom, the world cannot come to know God.

The question for us then is whether the interpretation taken by many modern translations of the Bible is correct. Certainly, on a theological level, what is preached, the Gospel message, is foolishness to the world. Saying that it is the message preached that is the foolishness that saves, or saying that it the act of preaching that is the foolishness that saves, are both true. And certainly grammatically, there is nothing wrong with translating that particular phrase as an objective genitive instead of a subjective genitive. But which interpretation fits better for our text? Since the "foolishness of preaching" is contrasted with the world's wisdom, and thus the "wisdom of the world," it is better for the phrase "foolishness of preaching" to be a subjective genitive just like the phrase "wisdom of the world" is a subjective genitive. Moreover, does the world just throw propositions in an attempt to come to know God? Or rather, they engage in the act of reasoning using their reason in an attempt to come to know God. Likewise, just as the means of wisdom is thinking, so the means of "foolishness" must be an action as well, which corresponds to preaching.

The phrase in 1 Corinthians 1:21, the "foolishness of preaching," therefore in my opinion should be best translated as the "the foolishness of the usage of preaching." Certainly it is true that the mere act of preaching is an issue, since Greeks love orations and speeches. But rather, it is the act of preaching as the instrument for salvation that is foolishness to the world. For if you want to "make friends and influence people," and even more, save the souls of men, would anyone past and present consider preaching to be a valid means to bring a person to salvation? Sophists engage in orations to entertain their audiences with their eloquence. Philosophers engage in dialogues (e.g. the Socratic model) to convince people of their truth. Many people today prefer the use of drama and multimedia presentations to bring the Bible stories "to life." (Since when was the Bible ever dead?) But God has ordained the means of preaching unto salvation, foolish though it seems to the world.

As those called to proclaim His Word, pastors therefore ought to stand firm in their conviction of the necessity of biblical preaching, not for mere instruction but also to save souls. It is in the faithful preaching of God's Word, Sunday after Sunday, where the Holy Spirit will most certainly work in the hearts of its hearers. While God can use any other means, we should not think that our "ministry" in workplaces or elsewhere is any substitute for biblical preaching, and most certainly should not have the expectancy that God will certainly work in those extra-ecclesial gatherings. For pastors, the burden to correctly parse and proclaim our Lord's work is heavy when one pauses to see its importance, so let us not treat this lightly but seriously, so that we may handle such a privilege and responsibility with reverence and godly fear.

The Paradox of the Faith: 1 Corinthians 1:17-25, 2:1-5

On April 30th, I have had the privilege of proclaiming God's Word from 1 Corinthians 1:17-25, 2:1-5. It took some time for the sermon to be uploaded to Providence's website, so I have only checked it and found it recently. You can hear it here.

Monday, April 10, 2017

One African-American woman's musings against RAAN types

Over on her blog, Alicia posted some of her thoughts on RAAN and their unhelpful attacks on race relations. As a black woman, her musings show us a perspective that RAAN would rather not others read about.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Last thoughts on the Kong Hee case post-appeal

As I have mentioned months earlier, I do believe that City Harvest "pastor" Kong Hee is indeed guilty in regards to his church's finances, but Christians especially should not be rejoicing in his conviction, and we should differentiate clearly between what is immoral and what is illegal.

In light of the reduced sentence verdict arrived at by the Singapore Court, there has been a lot of outrage from Singaporeans. Now, whether the sentences are fair or unfair is a matter for judges to decide. But what is indeed revealing in many of these comments is the utter lack of distinction between morality and legality. Something can be immoral, yet legal, and vice versa. Adultery is immoral, but the law does not penalize adulterers. Abortion is immoral, but in many countries including Singapore, it is legal. Conversely, in France, telling the truth about abortion is illegal, while it is actually moral to tell the truth about abortion. In other words, there is no necessary correlation between morality and legality. That there ought to be such a relation is an assertion worth arguing about, but even if there should be a relation does not imply that there IS currently such a relation.

It is on this matter that much of the online outrage concerning Kong Hee is disturbing. Is it immoral for a pastor to live like a king? Yes, I think it is. But is it illegal? No! Is it immoral for a pastor to fleece people of their money for his own enrichment? Yes. But if the followers willingly give up their money for their pastor to live such a lifestyle, of their own free will and knowing that is how he uses the money, then how is it illegal for the pastor to use his followers' money in such a way? Is it immoral for Kong Hee to run the church like a corporate dictatorship? Yes, and contrary to the Scriptures too. But if the church members agree that this is how their church should be run, and such is not contrary to their own constitution, then it seems there is nothing illegal here either.

That is why, no matter how reprehensible I think Kong Hee's actions may be, I do not think he should be charged with anything beyond basic criminal breech of trust. The civil laws of a nation can and should only judge what is illegal, not necessarily what is immoral (unless what is immoral is also illegal). Lex Rex! The Law is King. That is what is meant for any country to be ruled by the law. If people think that any of these immoral actions taken by Kong Hee should be punished, then go ahead and try to introduce legislation to criminalize such actions. But unless and until such is done, there is absolutely no basis for anyone to clamor for greater sentencing of Kong Hee and company.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Social Darwinism the prevalent doctrine of race relations in the early 20th century

Darwinists' views about race existed not only in Nazi Germany but also in America, as it apparents from surveys of textbooks published from 1880 to around 1950. For example, Princeton biologist Edwin Conklin stated in his college text that comparison

of any modern race with the Neanderthal or Heidelberg types show... Negroid races more closely resemble the original stock than the white or yellow races. Every consideration should lead those who believe in the superiority of the white race to strive to preserve its purity and to establish and maintain the segregation of the races.32

German eugnicists relied heavily on work completed in Britain and America, especially that research related to sterilization policies. ...

[Jerry Bergman, Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview: How the Nazi Eugenic Crusade for a Superior Race Caused the Greatest Holocaust in World History (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: Joshua Press, 2012, 2014), 83]


32 Edwin G. Conklin, The Direction of Human Evolution (New York: Scribner's, 1921), 34, 53

.

Conversely, German eugenicists repeatedly acknowledged their debt to the American and British researchers and periodically honoured eugenicists from British and American universities with various awards. Furthermore, many of the American eugenicists argued that the Nazis were outdoing them and were able to convince American courts (including the Supreme Court) of the validity of even some of the most outrageous eugenic claims. Some of these eugenic-based ideas became part of American law and practice until after World War II when the full horror of the German eugenics programmes became widely known

[Bergman, 85]

What was the prevalent understanding of race relations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Western countries? Was it color-blindness? If one were to read the revisionist history put up by RAAN writers such as Jarvis Williams, you would think most Westerners in the late 19th century and early 20th century held to the theory of color-blindness. But such is absolutely false. While Christians of that era hopefully should have been promoters of color-blindness, and they did when their better angels prevailed, the predominant theory concerning race relations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Social Darwinism. It was in Nazi Germany that Social Darwinism was applied in practice in the Holocaust, but that does not mean that only Nazi Germany held to the theory of Social Darwinism, just that they were willing to actually put it into practice regardless of how inhumane it would become.

Social Darwinism is the application of Darwinian evolutionary theory to real life. In Darwinian evolutionary theory, organizations and species evolve towards being fitter, and only the fittest survive (survival of the fittest), while the less fit slowly lose out and become extinct. Humans are also placed on the evolutionary scale as being an evolution from ancient apes, and thus are fitter and stronger than the apes. But even in a species, since everyone is struggling on the evolutionary process, the fitter specimens should survive while the weaker ones die off. Placed into the human context where latent racism was already present, some "races" were seen to be more evolved (e.g. the "Aryans") while other "races" less so and are deemed to be more "ape-like." Social Darwinism aims to apply the Darwinian process to humans and thus eliminate the "less fit" specimens. Thus, individuals and "races" deemed to be less fit are to be eliminated while fitter individuals should procreate and produce many children, leading to the evolution of humanity to become better and fitter. Of course, what does this world "elimination" mean except killing actual humans and groups of humans off, that is, genocide! Nazi Germany followed Social Darwinism to its logical conclusion, conveniently identify their enemies with the "less fit" and sought to eradicate all non-Aryans, starting with the Jews and the Slavs.

Outside of Nazi Germany, the implications of Social Darwinism was not worked out into extermination but rather sterilization, such that the "less fit" would not be able to reproduce and thus decrease the supposed "vitality" of the population gene pool. Of course, in America, it was the blacks who would bore the brunt of the label of being less fit, and I wouldn't be surprised if moves such as segregation came about because of an embrace of some form of Social Darwinism.

Social Darwinism is therefore the prevalent doctrine concerning race relations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not color-blindness. If one desires to deplore racism, then one should attack Social Darwinism and its parents, the theory of human evolution itself. Otherwise, attacking color-blindness is to attack the cure and cause more racism instead of less, a problem that RAAN might actually instigate.

Monday, April 03, 2017

RAAN is promoting racism

I have stopped going over to The Aquila Report for quite some time, ever since they have shown themselves to be extremely biased and not conveying the truth when it comes to the ESS fiasco. That said, when I had cause to look at them again, I was dismayed that they had gone even further away from orthodoxy.

Meet RAAN, the Reformed African American Network, which is all about being a particular strain of "African-American," and not so much about being Reformed. The Aquila Report re-posted one such article originally published on RAAN, here, entitled The Cruelty of the Color-Blind Theory of Race in Evangelical Churches, written by one Jarvis Williams. In it, Williams took issue with color-blindness as reinforcing racism and especially white supremacy. This is of course astonishing given that at the core of color-blindness is the denial of racism. But what arguments and evidences does William produce for such a counter-intuitive accusation against color-blindness in favor of the neo-Marxist theory of Critical Race Theory?

Let us look at what color-blindness means when it is actually applied. It means that we are to treat everyone equally regardless of ethnicity and even culture. It means that I, as someone normally typed under "yellow skin," treat blacks and whites equally, and such color-blindness ought to be reciprocated. When I interact with an African-American, or interact with a Caucasian, or with an Indian, or another Chinese, I ought to treat them all equally as people all made in the image of God. I am not to discriminate against anyone because of his or her skin color! So, if in the event that someone discriminates against another based upon the person's skin color, that person is not practicing color-blindness! And here we see the problem with Williams' case against color-blindness. According to him, cases of racism (let's assume for the sake of argument they are indeed true cases of racism) invalidates color-blindness. But, if those people are not practicing color-blindness at all, why blame a theory when it is not practiced by racists?

It gets even weirder. Williams made the astonishing assertion: "The very racist social construct of race in 18-19th century Europe and America based on illusory biological traits and rooted in racial hierarchy and biological fiction proves that the color-blind theory is a myth." But are we to assume that color-blindness was held to as truth in the 18th and 19th centuries? Of course not! Color-blindness is a traditional [social] liberal theory, not one linked to the anciens regime in any shape or form! So why blame a theory for what it did not produce? Why blame a theory for the behavior of its non-practitioners?

As a "yellow" person, I find this attack upon color-blindness to be absolutely stupid. If color-blindness is rejected, why must we assume Liberation Theology and Neo-Marxist ideas of affirming the so-called victim races? If color-blindness is rejected, why should anyone not instead decided to embrace White Supremacy, or Chinese Supremacy, or any form of racism in response? Williams, and the Neo-Marxists who come before him, cannot produce a real answer here, because they have none. Liberation theology is assumed, not argued for, because this house of cards cannot be truly challenged otherwise the snowflakes will experience many meltdowns.

In practice, what should we do if we meet those who racially discriminate while claiming to be color-blind? Is the solution to reject color-blindness, or rather, that we ought to call them to live more consistently with their professed belief in color-blindness? The solution to giving lip-service to color-blindness is not less color-blindness, but more color-blindness. Ironically, it is Williams' approach that causes more racism if consistently followed. So, while I have no doubt the good intentions of RAAN, the sad but true fact is that RAAN is promoting racism and racial enmity, in the name of racial equality.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Book review: The Bible Among the Myths

The issue of historicity concerning Old Testament narrative, especially the first 11 chapters of Genesis, continue to remain a problem for many people. In his book The Bible Among the Myths, John N. Oswalt attempted to answer the questions concerning the Old Testament narratives and the questions of myth and history concerning them, and I have read and reviewed it accordingly, here. An excerpt:

The Bible claims to be a book that depicts historical events, all the way back to the beginning of time, or at least most Christians have always believed that from their reading of the Scriptures starting from the book of Genesis. Liberal “Christianity” since the 19th century has however cast doubt on the historicity of major events narrated both in the Old and the New Testaments, especially the first eleven chapters of Genesis 1. According to liberal scholarship, the first eleven chapters are “primeval history” which is made up of myths and legends no different from the various ancient myths and legends found among the pagan peoples of that time. The “Flood myth” in Genesis 6-9 for example is stated to be borrowed from the Akkadian Gilgamesh Epic. But if the events in the Bible are not truly history despite the fact that they claim to be history, can we trust the Bible at all?

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A suggestion for dealing with the problems plaguing the emerging culture

Each generation has its own problems, its own idols. The millennial generation has to deal with rank secularism and "progressive" identity politics and issues of "social justice," and it seems there is some question as to how the church ought to best deal with these matters.

In this light, I find these articles illuminating: Andrew Sullivan asking "Is Intersectionality a Religion", and articles from The Federalist "'Secular Religion' and the Impossibility of Religious Liberty" and "Liberal Fascism is what happens once people think God is dead." All of these articles make the point concerning the religious nature of much of progressive thought, and help us understand why progressives are so hateful, intolerant and bigoted, while claiming to be "loving" and "tolerant."

It seems to me that understanding the religious nature of progressive thought is helpful because then we can more clearly address the problem at its presuppositions. How should we address progressive thought? The way we have always dealt with false theologies, by exposing their incoherence and failures, and offering a true Christian alternative. Progressive Marxism however has masked itself, and thus it must be exposed. We cannot allow them to redefine language for their benefit. Progressive Marxism is a totalitarian system of thought and life, and thus the entire system and all its branches must be challenged and the Christian alternative regarding every part of thought and life is to be offered. We should not give an inch to this new incarnation of Marxism, but we cannot just stop at ideology, theology and philosophy, but also in action. The church has to offer an alternative community for the lost and hurting, even though the primary focus of the church is on the Word and sacraments, yet community is necessary for this progressivist age.

The church has to step up as it were, to face this new totalitarian challenge. We cannot be fighting the wars of the last century, for then we would not be properly witnessing to the emerging culture of our time.

1 Cor. 1:10-17, The Centrality of the Gospel, and the sin of schism

λέγω δὲ τοῦτο ὅτι ἕκαστος ὑμῶν λέγει· ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, ἐγὼ δὲ Ἀπολλῶ, ἐγὼ δὲ Κηφᾶ, ἐγὼ δὲ Χριστοῦ. μεμέρισται ὁ Χριστός; μὴ Παῦλος ἐσταυρώθη ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, ἢ εἰς τὸ ὄνομα Παύλου ἐβαπτίσθητε; (1 Cor. 1:12-13)

But I say this: that each of you say, I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos, and I am of Cephas, and I am of Christ. Has Christ been separated? Was Paul crucified for you, or was it into the name of Paul you were baptized? (1 Cor. 1:12-13; my translation)

Last Lord's Day, I had the privilege of bringing God's Word to the saints at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, which can be heard here.

It is very easy to take the moralistic route on this passage and just preach that the church must be united, as if unity in the church is as easy as having a big campfire and everyone holding hands and singing around the campfire. But to do justice to the text, one must deal with the real issue of the ground of unity, which is the Gospel message. The problem and sin of schism is real, but more laws and commands will not be able to solve it. We notice here that there are 4 factions under 4 figureheads that Paul mentioned: "of Paul," "of Apollos," "of Cephas or Peter," and "of Christ." The first faction focus on evangelism and church planting, the second emphasizes Bible study, rigorous intellect and apologetics and the third faction, history and tradition. Notice here that the fourth faction claim to be above the fray. In my sermon, I point that those who cry "no creed but Christ," the non-denominational denominations (which I did not name in my sermon, but people can look at examples like the Christian and Missionary Alliance or Calvary Chapel) and anti-intellectuals will fit that category. I will here further point out that striving for "unity" on grounds other than the Gospel will also fit into this category, since such is essentially putting up a new law for believers to keep.

The problem of unity is not that no one wants unity, but that everyone wants unity on his terms. Even the so-called modern "ecumenical movement" is essentially the 4th faction, since they think themselves above the fray of denominational differences while uniting around a social gospel and not the true Gospel itself. True biblical unity, if it is to be there, can only be found in the true Gospel. It stands to reason therefore that anyone, any church, and any denomination that denies the Gospel has cut itself away from true biblical unity. That is why the "ecumenical movement" manifests a false demonic unity, since the Gospel is not the center in it but only a perversion thereof.

True biblical unity therefore is hard, because it requires fidelity to the Gospel, an understanding of its centrality, and an understanding of the subservient functions of other biblical doctrines (baptism in the case of the Corinthians). Christians seeking true biblical unity should strive for it, which in the biblical Presbyterian model imply that they ought to be seeking to join local churches into presbyteries, synods and General Assemblies. This should be the goal for Christians to strive towards, a truly difficult task at hand.

Monday, March 20, 2017

On the nature and will of God

Clark’s solution is to distinguish human responsibility from God’s causative agency. This is certainly a helpful solution which the Reformed world should utilize, yet I do not see it as solving the question completely. (from my review of The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, here)

Chalcedonian theism marks the high point of orthodoxy with regards to the doctrine of God. This catholic (small "c") tradition defines God as one being/ essence, three persons, and this one God has one will and one nature in His being. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is one person with two natures (human and divine), and thus two wills. In traditional theism, a nature has a will, and thus Christ's two natures necessitates the existence of two wills. One could also extrapolate that to mean Christ has two minds, as indicative of the fact of Him having two wills.

What, then, is nature? What is will? What is person? Such questions should not be difficult to answer, especially when one looks at the Greek words behind these concepts: nature (φυσις), will (θελημα), person (προσωπον). "Nature" is an ontological terms defining what a thing is. "Will" originates decisions and actions. "Person" is more complicated and much confusion reigned over the term, but in association with the term hypostasis (ὑποστασις), a "person" is a subsistence, an instantiation. To simplify things, I would use the term "individuated consciousness." Note here that I did not say "individual consciousness," or "individuated center of consciousness," in order to keep the definition generic, since the three persons of the Trinity are one and the same being.

A "nature" is what a thing is. A "will" originates decisions and actions. What a thing is is separate from what a thing decides. Socrates is a man; that is his nature. Socrates ate his dinner; that is his will originating a decision to eat, and his body obeying his will to eat. Such is basic English and basic philosophy 101. A "nature" is never a "will," and, as we can see in recent times, it is possible for people to will something (transgender surgery) contrary to their nature (humans as inherently male and female).

God has His own nature, which is who He is ad intra. God wills, and acts accordingly, ad extra. Whatever God wills has its origin ad intra, but is manifested ad extra, where it then effect His works. There should be no question whatsoever that God's nature and God's will is distinct. To be sure, God is consistent, as God is one and simple. Therefore, according to traditional theism, God's will should be consistent with God's nature.

Since we never know God's nature simpliciter, in the history of theology, we come across the debate between realism and voluntarism, in the debate over the potentia Dei absoluta et ordinata (power of God absolute and ordained). Is the power of God absolute, in the sense that He can will anything including alternate past events, round squares and evil as good (divine voluntarism). Is it the power of God restricted to what He ordained to come to pass, and thus is not "absolute" in that sense (realism). Radical divine voluntarism, as held to by the nominalists, have God's power extending over contingency (possible past events), logical contradictions (round squares) and moral contradictions (evil as good). The orthodox position would deny the latter two (at least in their crude form) since they make no sense, but debate remain over contingency. As an example, can God create a world where He can forgive sins without the atonement of Christ? Those who hold to voluntarism might answer yes, while the realists would definitely say no.

So what does this obscure medieval debate has to do with Gordon Clark's theodicy? This "obscure" debate is relevant only because it brings up the same issues concerning God's nature and God's will. It must be noted that we are not talking about whether Clark's solution to the problem of theodicy is helpful. We are speaking concerning those who think that Clark's solution to the problem of theodicy is THE solution. Those who think that appeal to a fiat declaration that God is by definition good and therefore the entire question of theodicy is solved have not begun to scratch the surface of the problems it creates within the doctrine of God. In Clark's solution, we have the following propositions:

(1) God (by definition) is good

(2) God wills evil things

(3) God is ex lex (outside the law) and thus cannot be judged by His law.

Conclusion: Therefore, God is good even though He wills evil

As ONE solution, it is helpful. But we note here there are two propositions concerning the doctrine of God that we need to take note also:

(4) God is one and simple, therefore His will and His nature within Him are one and the same.

(5) God's law is a reflection of His nature

Putting propositions 1-5 together will create a problem, which shows that theodicy is not as easily solved just by Clark's solution. For, yes, God is ex lex in the sense that God is not culpable of evil just because He wills evil. But what is the law? What does willing evil say about the nature of God? For since God is one and God is simple, then His will (as originating ad intra) is equivalent to His nature, but if His will is His nature, then does willing evil things mean that God's nature is evil? But then it is protested that God by definition is good? Well then, you have a contradiction between proposition 1 and 4, and merely repeating proposition 1 does not solve the contradiction you will have. Unless of course, you do not mind throwing away the doctrine of divine simplicity. The same problem will arise when we ask how we can square propositions 3 and 5.

The radical followers of Clark will just assert propositions 1-3 over and over again, and either ignore or deny propositions 4 and 5. Such an emphasis on the divine will as dissociated from the divine nature is a characteristic of divine voluntarism. To be sure, they do not affirm clear logical or moral contradictions, but their emphasis on the divine will blind them to the problems such voluntarism have concerning one's doctrine of God. Perhaps they wish to deny propositions 4 and/or 5? But for those of us who do not reduce everything to "will" alone, we can affirm Clark's solution solve the moral aspect of theodicy, but acknowledge it leaves untouched the ontological problem of theodicy. (For those wanting to know how to solve that latter problem, a pointer would be to distinguish God's will concerning evil as primarily good, while secondarily evil.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark by Doug Douma

Douglas Douma has recently published a biography of the Presbyterian philosopher Gordon Haddon Clark (1902-1985), entitled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark. I have just finished reading it, and here is my review of the book. An excerpt:

Gordon Haddon Clark (1902-1985) was a prominent American Presbyterian philosopher and churchman in the 20th century, yet one would not know it by living in many contemporary 21st century American Presbyterian and Reformed circles. In this biography of this neglected American thinker, Douglas Douma does us all a great service by opening a window into the life of this man, helping us to understand his situation in life, and especially into the major controversy that has played a big influence in the formative years of one Presbyterian denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) — the “Clark-Van Til Controversy.”

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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Turretin concerning the Free Offer

XII. … Thus the promises added to the precepts signify only what God will grant to believers and penitents, not what he wills to grant to all those to whom the precept is proposed. [3.XV.12]

XVIII. There cannot be contrariety between those two wills because they do not will and nill [sic] the same thing in the same manner and respect. … [3.XV.18]

XXIV. If God by this will had signified that he willed the salvation of all without exception, he would have signified that he willed what he least willed (since by passing over the greater part, he has not willed to give them salvation). But when he signifies that he wills the salvation of all believers and penitents, it signifies that he wills that which he really wills and nothing is more true, nothing more sincere than such a declaration. [3.XV.24]

XII. This twofold will [of an antecedent and consequent will as per Amyraut -DHC] cannot be proved from Mt. 23:27, ... Therefore, Jerusalem is here to be distinguished from her sons as the words themselves prove. ... [3.XVI.12]

XVIII. When God testified that "he has no pleasure at all in the death of the sinner, but that he should return from his ways, and live" (Ezek. 18:23), this does not favor the inefficacious will or the feeble velleity of God because the word chpts (which occurs here) does not denote desire so much as delight and complacency. ... [3.XVI.18]

- Francis Turretin, Institute of Elentic Theology

It seems Francis Turretin did not hold to the well-meant offer as taught by John Murray and the Neo-Amyraldians.

Friday, March 03, 2017

The usage of words and power plays

Over in an article at the Desiring God website, the word "homophobia" is used once again. While the article does expresses certain truths (i.e. one's opposition to homosexuality should be based on Scripture and love not on emotions), the use of the word "homophobia" is extremely disturbing.

Words have meanings, and while it is a stretch to say that words are instruments of power, it is nonetheless true that terms and phrases direct the flow of thought and conversation. Even if a concept is rejected, the mere naming of the concept (particularly as a neologism) creates a conceptual space for it to be conceived in, with all its connotations. If mentioned and brought up frequently enough, the terms and what it conveys will become part of normalized discourse, even IF the concepts continue to be rejected. On a subconscious level, such normalization in discourse will create an impetus towards seeing such things as part of normal everyday life.

The usage of the neologism "homophobia" therefore functions in such a manner, as a trojan horse towards the normalization of deviant sexualities. Instead of telling people they ought to be compassionate towards those who struggle with deviant sexual temptations, those people are tarred with the neologism "homophobia." Thus, those who buy into the deceptive words of the LGBTQIAXXX agenda have lost half the battle when they adopt the terms and phrases of wicked men, even when they do correctly reject the actual wicked practices themselves. But when you allow wicked activists to direct the flow of thought and conversation, then those who reject the sexual deviancies will be increasingly perceived to be backward intolerant bigots and be on the defensive, no matter how much Desiring God and others will claim otherwise.

If one wants to actually promote the truth of Scripture on the issue, then one should stop adopting the terms of the wicked. Call a thing as what it is, and not what the world thinks it is, and refuse to compromise even on the terms one uses. Terms such as "homophobia" should never be used towards Christians, and should be qualified even in apologetics towards unbelievers.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The idolatry of nationalism

Nationalism is not patriotism. Whereas patriotism is the love of one's country, nationalism is the divinization of one's country, to worship one's nation as a god. During World War One, the various European nations were transmogrified into the divine instruments of God and His wrath on earth, with catastrophic consequences. The Liberal Protestant clergy were one of the chief culprits, and here is one such blasphemous prayer from a German pastor:

Our Father, from the height of heaven,
Make haste to succor Thy German people.
Help us in the holy war,
Let your name, like a star, guide us:
Lead Thy German Reich to glorious victories.
Who will stand before the conquerors?
Who will go into the dark sword-grave?
Lord, Thy will be done!
Although war’s bread be scanty,
Smite the foe each day
With death and tenfold woes.
In thy merciful patience, forgive
Each bullet and each blow
That misses its mark
Lead us not into the temptation
Of letting our wrath be too gentle
In carrying out Thy divine judgment.
Deliver us and our pledged ally [Austria-Hungary]
From the Evil One and his servants on earth.
Thine is the kingdom
The German land.
May we, through Thy mailed [sic?] hand
Come to power and glory

[As cited in Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (New York, NY: Harper One, 2014), 13]

Loving one's country is good, but never, ever treat any country or government as divine or semi-divine, as having absolute authority over the souls and consciences of men. Such is idolatry, and idolatry can have real-life consequences, as the First World War and the Second World War have shown us.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Turretin on the relation of God to His decrees

X. The decrees of God can be regarded in two ways: either subjectively (if it right so to speak, i.e., on the part of the internal act in itself and absolutely); or objectively, extrinsically and relatively with respect to creatures (respectively). In the former manner, they do not differ from God himself and are no other than God himself decreeing. But in the latter, they do differ because they may be conceived as many and various (not as to the thing, since God has decreed all things by one single and most simple act, but as to the objects), even as the knowledge of God is conversant with him innumerable objects without detriment to his unity.

XI. The decrees of God are free, not absolutely and as to the principle, but relatively and objectively and as to the end. For there could be no external object necessarily terminating to the divine will, for God stands in need of nothing out of himself. Therefore they could be and not be. But this does not hinder them from being called necessary as to the principle and internal act because the act of intelligence and will could not be absent from God at all. He could not be God without intelligence and will. They are necessary, therefore, as to internal existence, but free as to external relation (schesin) and habit. Nor can the will of God be said to cease absolutely, but with respect to the external object on which it is terminated.

What is the relation of God to His decrees? On the one hand, it consists of God decreeing something freely, and thus they seem to be on the side of God ad extra. On the other hand, they are the expression of God's mind and will, which are constitutive of God ad intra. But certainly nothing can be both internal and external to God at the same time, can it?

As Turretin states, the decrees, coming from God's "intelligence and will" is internal to God. But the decrees, as they are freely done by God, is free in its external relations (schesin). But what does this actually mean?

Perhaps to re-phrase for the intention of clarification, we can think of the decrees as being a thing X, which exists. The existence of X comes about from mind and will, and thus it is eternally timeless, partaking of the eternity of God's mind and will. The quiddity (or "what-ness") of the decrees, of the thing X, is internal to God, for God's mind and will necessitates it.

At the same time, the content or relation of the decrees, the thing X, is external to God, for it terminates upon the things decreed. Thus, the decrees are truly free in this sense, towards things external to the being of God. Thus, the decrees as to its reality is internal to God, God ad intra, yet the decrees as to what they refer to are external to God's being, God ad extra.

Therefore, the decrees of God are one, in the being of God, for God is simple and indivisible. When we speak therefore of the decreeS of God, we have already moved to the ad extra aspect of theology proper. The decrees of God in its one simple ad intra form we know that it exists (quiddity), but not as to what it is. When we inquire into what it is, what they are, we only see the decrees as they are of God's work, in a manner we can understand.

If there's no God...

"Imagine there's no heaven ..."

… For if there were no God, no republic, no society in the world would be safe. Without virtue, without religion, nothing can be safe. If here were no God, there be neither virtue nor religion. What would the world be but a mere den of robbers in which license would be each one’s law, no such thing as right or wrong, no right of government, no necessity of obedience—the most abandoned, the superior and the most powerful, the master? No check would be placed upon the oppression of rules and the rebellion of subjects. Each one would follow the bent of his own inclination. Again, if there were no God, no mortals would even for a moment be safe or secure from violence, fraud, perjury, slaughter of blood. Every hour everything would have to be feared. Take away the barriers of divinity and what would become of confidence and innocence? What license or violence would not be witnessed? As to human edicts (besides the fact that they cannot change the mind for the better, but on the contrary make it artful and intent upon all the arts of deception), what place would there be for human laws, if (the sense of deity being removed) the conscience would shake off all relations of justice and injustice?

[Turretin, Institutes, 3.I.21]